Non-League Football: Kettle plots path back to top: Southport are surprising with an uprising

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BRIAN KETTLE, the manager of Southport, admits that his ambitions for the current season did not extend beyond staying in the GM Vauxhall Conference, after his side's promotion from the Northern Premier League last term. Now, however, with the former Football League club sitting proudly on top of the Conference, he can afford to set his sights higher.

'I didn't expect us to be top,' Kettle, the former Liverpool full-back, said last night. 'My first target was to stay up, and we'll do well if we can stay in the top six.' Southport travel to fourth-placed Kettering tomorrow. 'Saturday's match, and next week's home game against Yeovil, will show us how good we are,' Kettle added.

Like last term, Steve Haw and Peter Withers have been scoring regularly, while Kettle has signed some experienced players to improve his squad. Paul Lodge, the former Everton midfield man, is the latest recruit, at pounds 3,000 from Morecambe. A similar fee brought Darren Lyons, a forward, from Bury, while Paul Comstive, a tough midfielder, arrived from Chester after a

13-year League career.

Off the field, ground improvements are continuing at Haig Avenue - the club are confident of satisfying the League's inspection committee. Southport's dream of returning to the Football League (which they were voted out of in 1978) remains alive.